Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a federal holiday observed annually in the United States on the last Monday of May. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings; there is strong evidence pointing to organized Southern women’s groups and schoolchildren who decorated Confederate graves in various cities to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the War Between the States. These observances quickly spread across the country, and in 1868 fallen soldiers of both the Confederate and Union armies were honored at Arlington National Cemetery.
By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces in all wars. Since the late 50’s, the 1,200 soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry place small American flags at each of the more than 260,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery on the Thursday before Memorial Day. They then patrol 24 hours a day during the weekend to ensure that each flag remains standing.
Sadly, the traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. There are still many people who visit cemeteries and memorials to honor those who have died in military service, but far too many of our countrymen have forgotten the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are ignored and neglected; many towns that once held Memorial Day parades and remembrances now only celebrate a three-day weekend that marks the beginning of summer.
Last Saturday evening at Cross Community Church, we paid special tribute to all those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Because of that price these men and women paid with their blood, we have the freedom to gather . . . to praise . . . and to worship in God’s house weekly without fear of persecution. As Americans, each Memorial Day we should remember those who gave everything that we might live free.
But those of us who are also Christians should observe a memorial day each week when we gather to worship the One who gave everything that we might live eternally free. Jesus died to set the captives free from sin and death. He paid an unimaginable price that we might be redeemed from the tyranny of sin’s stranglehold on our lives.
After having been betrayed by one of His closest friends and denied by another, our Lord was beaten, spit upon, scourged, and given a crown of thorns for His head. Then the Roman soldiers hurled Him down on His maimed back to nail Him to that dirty tree. When they lifted Him up on the cross to set it into the ground, His bones were dislocated out of joint. A crowd of onlookers stood round the cross as He hung there, naked and bleeding; many of whom had come gloat at His terrible death—to mock His ministry, ridicule His thirst, and insult His prayers. Yet that was not the worst of it.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Mark 15:33-34)
Jesus had suffered terribly up to that point; Isaiah 52:14 records that He was beaten so badly that He was no longer recognizable as a man. But as awful as it was, the scourging and even the tearing agony of crucifixion was little more than a pinprick compared to what Jesus endured for three interminable hours . . . the time when His Father in heaven turned His back on His beloved Son. They had been together from all eternity in perfect community; now, for the very first time Jesus experienced something no Christian believer will ever have to endure: being forsaken by the Father! Jesus’ anguished cry expressed a horror that those who have trusted in His atoning death will never experience: facing the righteous fury of a holy God.
What an incredible freedom Jesus won for us on that cross! He not only conquered sin and death, but He secured for us the promise that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV).
So today, as you pause to remember all those soldiers who died for our liberty in this great nation, pause also to remember the One who died to set you free, nailed to wooden beams on Golgotha’s hill with your name in His heart. His conqueror’s cry, “It is finished,” signifies the most glorious victory ever won on any battlefield—an eternal victory won for you and for me.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!